Thursday, February 22, 2007

Carnivore?

Tomorrow we are getting a lamb. And that is something about which I have mixed feelings.

This morning, when the sun came up, this lamb was out in the field, thinking sheepy thoughts, looking for edibles in the snow. By now, dinner time, it is no longer alive, and on Saturday, it will be in my freezer as chops, roasts and ribs. That is an awesome realization, that this lamb is no longer alive simply because I like to eat lamb chops.

All of my sisters are vegetarians, and they chant “No food with a face.” I understand why they chose that path, and was, in fact, a vegetarian for several years. Pregnant with my first child, however, inexplicable cravings for Sonic’s chili cheese coneys brought an abrupt end to that, and since then I have been a carnivore. And besides, as I have pointed out to my sisters, if everyone was a vegetarian, then cows and pigs would become extinct.

But I feel that eating meat carries an enormous responsibility. I have to understand that I am responsible for the death of this animal. And equally, I am responsible for the life of the animal, as well.

Recently I read an article that voiced my feelings about this exactly. Why I Farm, by Bryan Welch, was published in the February/March issue of Mother Earth News, p. 78. In it he says “People often ask ‘How can you eat your own animals?’ Sometimes it’s a sincere question, meant to explore the emotions associated with raising your own meat. But often it’s more of an accusation, as in ‘How can you be so callous?’ So in response I might ask ‘How can you be so cruel as to eat animals without knowing them? Without knowing how they lived? Without making sure they were treated kindly and with respect?’”

A paragraph later, he says “I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should raise their own meat. But it’s perverse, isn’t it, that many people in our society seem to consider it more civilized to eat animals they don’t know? Meanwhile, industrial agriculture treats meat animals as nothing more than cogs in the machine, without regard for their happiness or basic well being.

“There’s a Buddhist wisdom in the stockman’s cool compassion. The best of them seem to understand that our own lives on this Earth are as irrefutably temporary as the lives of the animals, and that we should provide as much simple comfort and dignity to our fellow creatures as we can. After all, aren’t simple comfort and dignity among the most important things we wish for ourselves and our children?”

When I read this article, I wanted to shout “Yeah! What he said.” If I am going to eat an animal, I have to respect its life. And yet, I don’t raise my own meat. Despite living within walking distance of working farms, the covenant for my subdivision rules out farm animals. Since that is the case, I take another approach.

I’ve always been a great proponent of “voting with my dollar.” Shopping and the purchases I make are political statements for me, and the money I spend stands behind my beliefs. To that end, as much as possible, we purchase meat that has been raised locally. Sometimes we buy at the local 4H auction, other times we buy from local farmers who share our philosophy. Our lamb will be coming from an Amishman who milks the sheep and makes artisan cheese; our pork is raised by his son. We are currently eating beef raised by a local high school boy, who used the money he got from the auction to buy a car. We have the option of visiting the animals, of seeing them living out their lives before they end up on our plates. We are voting against factory farming.

The consequences of this have been greater than I expected, and in fact changed more than the way we eat at home. Eating out has become very different. We eat next to no fast food, we eat very little meat in restaurants, and in fact, we don’t eat out often. Lunchmeats are a rarity, purchased perhaps 4 times a year. Meal planning takes more, well, planning than it did when we could pick up a bucket of KFC and head home for dinner. And the meat we purchase tends to be more expensive than supermarket meat, so we eat less.

I am not perfect at this- we do still eat meat out occasionally; I still crave an occasional chili-cheese coney or Supersonic burger. I’m not at all sure that, given the opportunity, I am in a place where I could raise my own meat. But I feel that I am eating consciously, responsibly, and very well.

Pigs waiting to be shown at the 4H auction

5 comments:

Bryan Welch said...

Thanks for the support, and good work on the blog. - Bryan Welch

PALocalvore said...

Thanks for stopping by! I was really impressed by your article, hope you didn't mind that I quoted it since it wasn't on Mother's webpage for me to link to.

Willa

H said...

As a card carrying vegegarian, it is a little hard for me to even comprehend raising animals to eat. Somehow, I don't think if we don't eat pigs and cows they would be extinct. We don't eat skunks, and for sure they are not extinct...drive through my neighborhood early one morning for proof thereof. I do agree that we are all responsible for the choices we make, and the consequences as well. And I commend you for your thoughts about comfort and compassion. People laugh at me for scooping up spiders & geckos and carrying them outside...but that's my way of showing kindness and compassion.

PALocalvore said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Perhaps extinct is a little strong, but the difference between skunks and cows, (other than the obvious) is that cows are domesticated, and very few exist as wild animals. If there is no need to raise domestic animals, ie, no meat or cheese or leather, then there is no need to keep them. They would become curiosities in zoos. Now, whether or not that is better than being eaten is open for debate.

Bobbisox said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your belief in "knowing your food" and I must have got that from an Organic Gardening article in the '60's. I too have had people be less than understanding in comprehending why we would want to know the animal we are going to eat. I always said, if I am not willing to meet it and kill it, then I don't deserve to be allowed to eat it. (kind of a respect that the Native Americans have) Oh, and on the garden front, try some black kale, cavalo it is marvelous in soups and pretty much everything. Love that stuff, and as I am an organic gardener, I am on constant watch for the aphids, but it is totally worth growing.